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Car Shipping

Cost Answers

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The first factor used to calculate car shipping cost is the transport distance. Next are the length, height and weight of the vehicle, followed by running condition and type of trailer (Open or Enclosed). Finally, seasonal fluctuations may impact the overall cost.

The distance between origination and destination is probably the main factor determining how much it costs to ship a car. Kind of obvious, right? Philadelphia to Boston is going to cost a lot less than Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The price per mile typically goes down the farther the distance, but the overall cost goes up none the less. The higher the number of miles on the route, the higher the car shipping cost.

The length of a vehicle affects the car transport quote. The average sedan is about 192 inches long. Longer vehicles, especially over 196 inches, start to squeeze an auto transport trailer. Vehicles over 200 inches are more costly to ship because they may inhibit space for another vehicle. Instead of able to carry ten vehicles, a car mover might only be able to accommodate nine. So the longer vehicles need to pay for intruding on that space. These are things that the average customer doesn’t think about, but are a major concern for car shipping companies.

The vehicle height also matters. It works the same way as length. Most sedans are about 57 inches high, midsize SUVs 67 inches, and the larger SUVs are about 73 inches. By and large, all those work fine in most situations. However, the extra tall SUVs, Pickup trucks, and Vans ranging from 75 to 79 inches, are pushing the limits of an auto transporter. What happens is that vehicles 80 inches or higher basically eliminate the option to fit even a small car above it. So the vehicles over 80 inches must pay for two spots.


For a car transport company, every trip is a puzzle piece to be put together just right. It is a combination of mathematics, spatial awareness, creativity, common sense and skill.

Instead of able to carry ten vehicles, a car mover might only be able to accommodate nine. So the longer vehicles need to pay for intruding on that space. These are things that the average customer doesn’t think about, but are a major concern for car shipping companies.

The lower the vehicle ground clearance, the more prone to scrapping the bottom or damaging the bumper, especially when shipping Open carrier. Enclosed car transporters are better equipped to safely handle low ground clearance vehicles. As a general rule, vehicles with above 5 inches of ground clearance are probably safe to go Open car transport. Anything with a ground clearance of 4 inches or less, however, should probably ship Enclosed. If your vehicle is between 4 to 5 inches ground clearance, it’s a judgement call. Most every Open car transport service will think twice about hauling a vehicle with only 4.5 inches ground clearance. That is why it may take longer.

Auto transporters must get through the weight scales like every other freight company. The maximum weight for a truck on a U.S. interstate is 80,000 pounds. Subtracting the weight of the truck and empty trailer, that leaves approximately 45,000 lbs. for cargo, in this case vehicles. Assuming ten vehicles will fit on such a big car hauler, the average weight for each can be no more than 4,500 lbs.. It becomes a puzzle piece on weight too. The lighter vehicles will allow for more heavier vehicles.

Over the decades, Americans especially have gravitated to heavier SUV’s and Pickup trucks. Car shipping cost has risen as a result. It is also for this reason that auto transporters limit extra items placed in the vehicle. It is due to a concern for overall weight.

Maneuvering non-operational vehicles on and off a car transport trailer is a big challenge. Car shipping companies much prefer operational (running) vehicles because it gives them an easier option to reposition their entire load. Non-running vehicles take considerably more time to get on and off the trailer. So the car shipping quote must reflect the higher cost. Many auto transporters don’t have a winch and cannot accommodate non-running vehicles. That is one reason it takes longer on average to ship non-operational vehicles. Fewer do it. If at all possible, fixing your vehicle before trying to ship it will save on the non-running car transport cost, and make the process go faster.

Open car transport means the vehicle will be exposed to the elements, such as weather and the road. Enclosed car shipping is the opposite, as the vehicle is protected from the elements. The average auto transport cost is about 50% higher for Enclosed over Open carrier. That is partly because Enclosed carriers can fit about 50% fewer vehicles while incurring about the same expense, but also because of the extra care and protection.

It should be noted that roughly 97% of all car shipments are Open carrier, which is more cost effective, and also very safe. In either choice, Open or Enclosed carrier, damage complaints are less than 1% of all shipments, and those incidents are relatively innocuous. Enclosed auto shipping is often the choice for high priced, luxury, or collector cars.

The economic laws of supply and demand are at work in the auto transport industry too. Seasonal fluctuations have a major affect on car shipping cost. Summer time is easier and less costly than winter time in the north. Some regions like Florida have seasonal spikes in traffic that make one direction far more expensive, and the reverse direction far cheaper. Even the possibility of inclement weather can greatly affect both the transport cost and service.

A typical year will start with a backlog of vehicles in January, as the number waiting to ship nearly doubles, because car transport carriers stay home for about ten days over the Christmas and New Years holidays. Auto transport quotes rise significantly in a classic over demand vs. under supply equation.

It takes three weeks, or until late January, for equilibrium to return. The vehicle shipping market stays soft in February and March, until April, when the Florida Snowbirds return to the northern states. The same thing happens in other warm weather states, such as California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, which continues busy through all of May.

The Summer is exceptionally strong everywhere. It reaches a fever pitch for about two weeks surrounding the 4th of July, as again many carriers stay home, and car transport costs rise. It takes until late July to settle down. August and September are moderately busy with college students shipping their cars. Then October, November and early December tend to be much slower. Auto transport quotes go down.

But come late December the holidays return, the Snowbirds head south to the warmer states, and the ensuing backlog causes auto transport pricing to spike again. And so it goes …

Location also has a big affect on how quickly a vehicle will be shipped. If either the origination or destination are remote or have small populations, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there is less truck traffic and car shipments may take longer and cost more to attract a carrier. Conversely, according to the 2020 United States Census, roughly 80% of the U.S. population lives in major urban areas, which makes it much easier for car transporters to amalgamate full loads and get on the road quicker. Urban areas typically cost less than remote locations.


A good example is in Michigan. Car shipping to San Francisco from Detroit might take just a few days to assign a carrier. But from somewhat remote Grand Rapids, it could be twice as long. Harder still would be from very remote Traverse City, where up north it could be many weeks before a carrier is heading to San Francisco. Depending on location, a customer should have realistic expectations and plan ahead. Going with the Expedited or Rush tiers help enormously to speed things up.


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